“The Day After” – The Horror of Nuclear War

Further to my post about the British movie Threads about nuclear war, this time I am writing about the American one – The Day After (Nicholas Meyer, 1983).

The premise of the movie (information taken from IMDb) is

The effects of a devastating nuclear holocaust on small-town residents of eastern Kansas.


Unlike Threads, which was based in Sheffield, where I lived for about nine years, I have never visited Kansas, let alone lived there. In that respect, the movie impacted me less than Threads did. However, I do remember having an art teacher from the USA a year or so after the movie was first shown and talking to her about it, and specifically remembering how difficult she found it to watch as she had friends from that area.

While Threads, in my view, is the more sophisticated of the two movies, due to my interest in nuclear weapons and visuals of the mushroom cloud, as I have written about before, it was The Day After that I re-watched more as a teenager (though I often didn’t watch the whole film).

Watching it again many years later for my research for the article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, I still found it very powerful, though still not as powerful as Threads. And yet, even President Ronald Reagan commented that The Day After helped to change his views on nuclear weapons and nuclear war (see the Wikipedia page about the movie). In that respect, it is a movie which should still be made compulsory viewing for all the leaders of nations that have or aspire to have nuclear weapons.

In terms of the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, The Day After has 16 out of the 17, with the only missing one being ‘isolation’ (although the movie is largely set in a small town, there is no feeling that they are cut off and there are even times when we see other cities nearby). It was, however, one of the more unusual ones in that it doesn’t obviously show ‘the disaster’ on the poster that promotes the movie, but this was not one of the conventions in my study (as many narratives, including The Day After, were originally TV movies and so had no accompanying VHS/DVD/Blu Ray).

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